Completely cutting out meat and dairy can be very difficult for some people, but even a partial move away from meat-based recipes could have a significant effect on the climate crisis.

What we eat has an enormous impact on our climate and environment. It’s estimated that the production of food causes 35% of greenhouse gas emissions that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and cause the planet to warm.

Eating less meat is one of the important and meaningful changes people can make to decrease their carbon footprint, help reduce deforestation and, according to the latest IPCC report  lessen the risk of future pandemics caused by diseases passing from animals to humans.

Changes to your diet do not need to be extreme. According to a PNAS study emissions could fall 20% by 2050 if people in developed countries met their basic nutritional needs of more plants and less red meat. There’s a lot of support for the Mediterranean diet for health and adopting this style of eating, which is rich in grains, vegetables, nuts and moderate amounts of fish and poultry, would also have a positive effect on our environmental impact.

So, how easy is it to change our diets?

Easy right? After all, we choose what we’re eating?

Well, yes, but it’s also worth considering how instrumental institutions around us are affecting those choices.

All our decisions are whittled down by what’s in our supermarkets, workplaces, and restaurants.

Consumers are often motived to eat more sustainably and healthily but given a choice between food that’s healthy for our bodies and the planet, but isn’t particularly appetising, and a delicious meaty option that’s cleverly marketed, a lot of people find themselves listening to their tastebuds and ignoring their conscience.

There needs to be equivalent options to help people to make the right choices and retailers need to promote plant-based proteins.

Leading by example are Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain has set a five-year goal to increase sales of plant-based proteins by 300%.

What influences our food choices?

The World Resources Institute released a report in 2020 looking at the psychology of our food choices.

The researchers concluded that decisions made around food are rarely rational or even a carefully thought through process. Consumers like familiarity and are subliminally influenced by linguistic and physical cues.

The evocative language used for food such as chicken and burgers, makes them sound good by using words like ‘juicy’ and ‘crispy’, whereas meat free options are marketed with words like ‘healthy’ and ‘vegan’ and the research shows this makes people less likely to order them. 

A meat tax

Some European countries are now considering taxing meat but at a time of an unprecedented cost of living, is this the way forward?

Some people believe it could be one of the many tools available to start making a difference. Coupled with education about food’s climate impact, better plant-based options and incentives may be one of the ways to curb the hefty emissions created by meaty dense diets.